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Lazaro (2): Easter eve in La Plaza de la Cathedral

Pat and I did not end up at El Patio in the Plaza de la Cathedral by design, but rather by a confluence of disparate factors: a desire for a low decibel bar, the hope of finding a toilet with a toilet seat and toilet paper, and the fact that I'd left my passport behind and feared that without identification, it might be impossible to pay for a couple of mojitos at a less upscale establishment with the fifty dollar bill in my wallet. But it was Easter Eve and so it seemed a fortuitous accident to be sitting in the Plaza at one of the more reputable eating and drinking establishments in La Habana Vieja. The mojitos, however, were barely mediocre, and the smell of urine -- from humans or horses was not clear -- wafted up from the pavement. 

As we sat sipping the mojitos, the doors of the Cathedral suddenly swung open, and a crowd of tourists milling about the square disappeared into the church. When we had paid our bill (the fifty was accepted without comment), we decided to investigate, but discovered nothing of special significance (except perhaps a higher than normal ratio of beggars to church visitors). We walked on, but were immediately attracted by the soft glow coming from the open doors of a small chapel at the end of a shabby alleyway separating the cathedral from an adjacent, equally shabby building. It was the simplest of chapels, but adorned with fine mosaics depicting the stations of the cross, which we admired in silence. We were about to retreat when we saw a tiny man carrying a broom, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. 

"Hello," he said. "In ten minutes you can see the cardinal." 


"Yes, right here. He comes by and then he walks in the square and then he go inside the church." 

"Is it all right if we stand here?" 

"Yes -- it's ok. You can stay right here. Where are you from?" 

"Estados Unidos," we answered. 

"Oh, very nice. I lived in Iowa," said the man. Now it wasn't unusual to hear of people who had family in Florida or New Jersey. Nor was it that surprising to hear older people reminisce about visits to the U.S. or Europe. We'd even met one man who had lived for thirty or forty years in Philadelphia. But Iowa? The man didn't look as if he would have been able to withstand ten minutes in an Iowa winter. 

"Iowa?" we both exclaimed in unison. "That must have been terribly cold," I added. 

"Yes, it was cold. Very cold." His accent was strong but he spoke clearly and confidently. "I go there in 1980 -- to find my father. He leave Cuba in 1959. But I don't find him. I live there 14 years, but my mother get hurt with a car, so I come back to help her. After three years she die. Now I am back here." 

"My name is Lazaro," he said. "I'm very pleased to meet you." It was a name that seemed somehow appropriate. 

"I like Cuba," he assured us. "But I don't like this system. It is all very difficult. Very difficult. Things are not so good here. But I have God so it's ok. Everything is ok if you know God." 

I was sure we were going to be questioned on our own relationship with God, and counseled to put our lives in his hands, but that was not the case at all. He was not interested in saving our souls, but only of affirming his own faith. 

"It's very difficult" he repeated. 

"But things can change," I suggested. "It does not have to be so difficult. Maybe things will change." 

"Oh, but with Fidel, I don't think so. It's very bad what Fidel does." 

"But Fidel has done good things too," said Pat, cognizant, I understood, of the possibility that we were being baited. 

"Yes he did some good things. And maybe he will know God too. That's what I hope for." 


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